The Federal Government will introduce a new independent industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, which will consolidate seven separate federal agencies and commence in July.
The new agency, which was allocated $97.5 million over two years in the Federal Budget, aims to move away from the adversarial and legalistic processes of other bodies in favour of less formal processes.
Peta Tumpey, partner in employment and workplace relations at TressCox Lawyers, told Lawyers Weekly that it will be difficult to assess the impact of the new body until it has commenced, particularly in relation to flexibility surrounding leave for lawyers to appear and represent clients.
"I think it's good for smaller businesses ... it's meant to be a form of speedy and efficient resolution and for small business it's time consuming to go to court," she said.
"But I think it's unfair to employees who will be not be represented who might be up against experienced senior HR people or directors of business who might be more equipped to argue. I think that could end up being unfair to unskilled workers who aren't as articulate."
Tumpey said that while major differences should not be noticed, more employees will now have access to the unfair dismissal jurisdiction.
"It's still going to be a body that hears things and attempts to conciliate, and I think one difference is they will be briefed to return employees to the workplace, as opposed to compensation payments but in practice there will be a lot more focus on compensation," she said.
Fair Work Australia will be fully operational by 1 January 2010, while the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, Australian Industrial Registry and Workplace Authority will continue to operate alongside the new agency for a limited period until matters commenced under the Workplace Relations Act are concluded.
The consolidation of the agencies into one body is set to save $300 million each year.
- Sarah Sharples